The date will hopefully go down in the history books. On that day, the Fridays for Future movement has reached a new level of momentum. More than million people took to the streets in Germany alone to protest for more action against climate change. The cause united us all. The massive turnout made these the second largest protests in German history. Yes, the day will go down in history.
But was it a success?
Let me be honest with you: I was right in the middle of it all, and it was an emotional rollercoaster. As happy as I am and as hopeful it makes me to see how smart and reflective the younger generations are, seeing the helplessness and desperation in their eyes pains my heart. These youngsters, they are many and they are loud – and still they are not heard. What has to happen for politicians to listen up? Will all 80 million Germans have to take to the streets before the few individuals with sufficient power to institute meaningful and broad changes finally take action?
It makes me so angry.
The day the government is meant to pass a climate protection package, which at least approaches the goals laid out in the Paris climate treaty. But no matter how full the streets, the urgency of climate protection does not seem to have seeped into the minds of our politicians, mainly the players of the grand coalition. The short-sightedness of the package that is eventually passed is absolutely disastrous. While a tax is levied on fossil fuels, taxes are on the other hand reduced for drivers who frequently travel long distances. What’s the point, then? And what about the urgent call to improve public transport in order to create more viable alternatives to individual traffic? Nothing. What does pass is the ridiculous fig-leaf of a measure that corporations will have to pay a measly 10 euros per ton of carbon emission. 10 euros.
Who is going to be deterred from polluting the air by a tenner per ton?
And not even this laughable measure is properly thought out, as it relies on stringent check mechanisms which may theoretically be in place, but which are far from solid in practice. Even Merkel herself states that the government “starts by setting a low bar in order to bring all players along”. That’s not a climate protection package then, it’s a waving everyone through on the road to destruction, with a friendly thumbs up from the state. Unsurprisingly, the criticism on the measures thus presented is loud and varied. In the run up to the meeting, the climate cabinet stated that climate action needs to be socially acceptable. But what is social or acceptable about this package? It is, in fact thoroughly anti-social and devoid of solidarity. The bill for the current set of measures will once again be presented to the middle-class and the low-income bracket. As seemingly always, the rich and the corporations get off scot-free. What we see is a list of alibi-measures ensuring that Germany will miss the goals of the Parisian climate treaty by a long, long mark. Not even the far less ambitious 2030-goal is within realistic reach, if this is all we get. What else but anger can one feel in the face of such cynical incompetence?
Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw reflections of societal desperation in the eyes of the children. These are kids who should be out playing in nature, instead of painting protest signs. They should worry about exams, not about their future existence. All they should have to do is be children. These kids shouldn’t have to try to make grown ups accept plain truth. These children should read fantasy stories, not dystopian environmental projections. They probably don’t fully understand it yet, but to some extent they are being cheated out of a carefree childhood. I remember being my own childhood as a time when I was blissfully unaware of the major problems in the world. I was allowed to be a child, whereas these kids are burdened with grown-up responsibilities, forced to witness the destruction of their future in front of their very eyes.
It makes me so sad.
It’s not enough. I have to start with myself. I try to remember when was the last time I had a coffee to go, and I can’t say. I changed many of my consumer habits this year, often little details that I wasn’t even aware were harmful before. I try to avoid plastic wherever I can, use public transport or my bike most of the time. I don’t eat meat, and turn down many job offers that would entail flying to locations for a day. In other words, on top of my daily habits, which I try to improve constantly, I do my best to address the bigger climate sins I am responsible for in my life, mainly in terms of food and transport. I am not kidding myself nor anyone else – my contribution could be larger, especially when I think of my clothes and the many packages I receive every week. My steps may be small, but when I take stock of the distance I covered within a year by taking them, one after the other, I am proud to be moving in the right direction. Again, I know there’s still a long way to go, but at least my progress feels sustainable and fundamental. And still, I keep getting messages from followers who have nothing but criticism for me.
As if pointing fingers would have ever lead to any kind of sustainable solution. All you do by blaming others is contributing to the further polarization of society.
The blame game makes people switch off, it creates a sense of helplessness, fosters the emotion that “whatever I do is wrong”, with the predictable result that people stop engaging altogether. It’s exactly what we don’t need. Living sustainably is of course much easier said than done, the prospect of radical changes scares most people off. Every step in the right direction should be acknowledged as progress, and as a basis for further, hopefully bigger steps towards the shared goal.
That said, broad change is only possible if a common course is laid out with systemic and structural guardrails set in place by politicians and upheld by the legal framework. Consumers and corporations should not be free to make choices that destroy our shared home. Factory farming won’t end without a systemic push, and left to their own devices not enough individuals will reduce their car trips, produce less trash or cut down on flight miles.
We all need to ask ourselves, each and everyone of us: what can I do to better protect the climate?
Certificate trade is supposed to provide an incentive to reduce emissions, but at the dumping price of 10 euros per ton, the incentive is at best a tiny impulse, at worst a joke. Our politicians tell us that climate action needs to be socially compatible, but I have come to believe that a course correction towards a stable future is only possible if we are catapulted out of our current comfort zone.
Let’s look the truth right in the eye. Yes, we have to say goodbye to material over-abundance and permanent availability of everything. We need to live more consciously, buy more consciously, make more conscious decisions. The necessary change affects us all, and it is going to hurt us and infringe on our individual habits, but there is no other way. We need to understand and accept that the climate crisis is largely a result of our own lifestyles. Counter-measures, painful as they are, are necessary. Whether we choose to no nothing or be active, one thing is certain: we won’t be able to go on like this. We either change actively, with the option to design our path into the future, or we wait until our status quo is eroded by the inevitable depletion of resources and deterioration of our environment. We need real measures, real, quantifiable solutions – change in homeopathic doses won’t cut it. And we need these real measures now, because very soon, it will probably already be too late.